Hector Avalos is an interesting fellow, as an article in the Iowa State Daily demonstrates. Avalos is professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State, a former child evangelist and a Harvard graduate. He's also the bete noir of many who find it hard to believe that you can be involved in fields like biblical studies without being a committed church member. Such a view was recently expressed by Jim West on his influential blog while commenting on something written by an obscure, minor figure in the Reformed tradition whose name escapes me.
The idea that (to quote Jim) "only those who have faith can explain faith" is one I first encountered a couple of years ago in a course at Otago University. It seemed a peculiar stance at the time, flying in the face of both reason and reality. I believe I countered that some of the best current biblical scholars came from Jewish backgrounds (Geza Vermes, Amy-Jill Levine and Mark Nanos spring immediately to mind), but it was lost in the Presbyterian fog.
My own Christian narrative has always been as an outsider to the mainstream, whether as a Lutheran in a country where Anglo Reformed churches dominate, as a misguided sectarian biblicist Christian, or as a post-Enlightenment progressive Christian. From where I sit Barth's insistence that only Christians can handle theological questions adequately seems like towering arrogance. The outsiders - and that certainly includes Jews and agnostics - may have a far clearer view than those who are closer to the torpid centre. Could it be that we can actually learn from people like Hector Avalos (which doesn't mean we always have to agree with him of course), if only we peel away the clinging apologetic goo that so easily binds us.